TRAIL TALE WITH THE COMPASS
Coming face to face with a wild Indian bison in its natural habitat isn’t even something that tigers do if they can avoid it. I certainly wouldn’t, if I didn’t have the security of the Jeep Compass by my side
A 300km getaway to the Bison sanctuary, with the Jeep Compass. Why? To meet Bisons, of course
AA PAIR OF ANGRY RED EYES SET IN A massive dark face with a pair of deadly looking curved horns on its head. You’ll be forgiven for thinking you are in front of some demon from the dark depths of Indian mythology. For even when it’s doing nothing but chewing the cud like normal cattle do in a merry farm anywhere in India, the Indian Bison, or Gaur, can be terrifying. Even the fiercest of predators, which means the Bengal Tiger in this case, will baulk at least once before attacking one and will do so only when driven to desperation I am told. Now I don’t know if any back-from-the-dead spy from Bollywood would have been braver than the King of the Jungle, I was certainly no Tiger. I certainly wouldn’t be here, less than 20m away from a magnificent pair of Gaurs in a vehicle that I had been advised to switch off. Unless of course that vehicle happened to be the robust Jeep Compass, that too in range topping Limited Plus trim.
The Limited Plus edition is actually an updated variant of the lovely Compass, with more features added on. First and foremost there’s that magnificent dual pane panoramic sunroof that you simply cannot miss. Then there is a larger 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment, 8-way electric adjust for the driver seat, auto dimming rear view mirror, auto headlamps, wicked looking 18-inch polished aluminium alloys and six airbags for added safety. So do these make the Compass even more desirable? What better way to find out than a road trip?
Two hours of research took me to a decision. This time around I would go and watch the Indian Bison in its natural habitat. The first time I saw one, it was on a night safari in Betla Reserve Forest in what is now Jharkhand. I was four and a half and remember nothing. The second time I laid eyes on the beast was at Kanha just a year and a half ago. The lone bull we saw would easily have topped six feet from hoof to hump (read shoulder). It had enormous presence and had made an immediate impact. So if I was going to head off into the jungle to catch more of its kind in the wild, the Compass Limited Plus with its
THE FOREST TREES TWIST AND TURN INTO SHAPES THAT WOULD HAVE SHAMED AN ACE GYMNAST
tremendous road presence would be a perfect match. Two minutes later I had arranged for a bright red and black Jeep Compass Limited Plus, 4x4 of course, for my journey into the wild. Thank you Jeep.
At just under 300km away from home, the Radhanagari Bison Sanctuary – formerly known as the Dajipur Wildlife Sanctuary, isn’t exactly within striking distance. The ideal way to tackle this would be to get to Kolhapur and hole up for the night and then head to the sanctuary early next morning. Unless of course you have a fast car that’s virtually purpose built for extended road trips. Which is exactly what the Compass is. You can choose the 1.4-litre turbo-petrol that is an enthusiast’s delight or you can opt for the 2-litre turbo-diesel with its oodles of torque and easy cruising abilities. In either case, it would be a great choice. In our case, we chose the diesel assuming that its torquey nature and sixspeed manual transmission would be a joy on a highway we know is filled with slow moving trucks and idiots of all kinds. And it was, for the vehicle is stable and planted, picks up speed quickly and can cruise at triple digits on the speedo all day without breaking sweat. Overtakes are a dab of the throttle and that new UConnect infotainment system with the large 8.4-inch touchscreen keeps you thoroughly entertained as it belts out your favourite tunes through the high quality speaker system.
The miles they come and go and soon enough we reach one of my favourite driving roads in the country, the Khambatki ghats. It’s one of the most tempting pieces of tarmac for a driving enthusiast because it is… wait for it… a one-way hill climb. And unlike at other busier times of the day, at four in the morning there were only a handful of trucks and a car or two leaving me enough room to enjoy The Thrill of Driving the Compass around a lovely hill climb. Fifteen minutes is all it took to get to the other side. Damn, I wish this section lasted longer. Around the Khambatki’s twists and turns the Jeep held its line like a train to its tracks and that steering let me know exactly where the wicked looking alloys were pointed. A delightful drive if there ever was one.
We pass a Kolhapur that’s on the brink of waking up at around half past five in the morning and turn off the national highway and on to the Kolhapur-Radhanagari highway. It’s a narrow single lane state highway that offers a mix of good, bad and terrible road surfaces. Surfaces that the Compass’ frequency selective dampers dispatch without so much as a rattle inside the cabin. It’s all smooth and relaxed as I watch Vishal’s sleepy head lolling from one side to the other in the auto dimming rear view mirror.
Two more lovely ghats later we arrive at a fork in the road and a massive gate announcing we have arrived at Radhanagari. Except there is no indication at all if we should go left or right. Android Auto on the UConnect, which also has Apple CarPlay, comes to the rescue and my phone’s Google Maps tells me to go right. Right is indeed right and in less than ten minutes we arrive at the ST bus stop in Radhanagari town where we are supposed to rendezvous with Roopesh and Samrat from the Bison Nature Club. One of them would take us around and help us with the sighting.
The sanctuary itself is about 35-40km from the quaint Maharashtrian town with touches of Konkani. The Konkan coast isn’t actually far off from here. We hungry souls grab a quick breakfast of piping hot kurmapuri, which is actually puri and curry, followed by much needed cups of coffee. Imagine our surprise, that coffee at this roadside dhaba turns out to be genuine filter coffee instead of the milky frothy tasteless instant coffee that one is usually served at such places!
Just when we’ve settled into a nice routine of smooth progress we find misfortune barring our way. The rain that was being wiped off the windscreen by the rain sensing wipers on and off since morning had turned the jungle trail slippery and slushy. So the Forest Department had shut the park down for the day. After the initial flutter of panic had passed we realised that the Jeep was the only 4x4 in the vicinity.
A bit of coaxing and brandishing our press cards later we had our tickets and the vehicle pass for the princely sum of `270 and were driving through the rusty gate of the Radhanagari Bison Sanctuary. Now I’ve been to enough wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in my life but never have I seen such dense woods. The foliage is so thick that you’d be lucky if you can see a few metres on either side. Perfect cover for a Gaur to hide.
Progress was slow for the trail has been churned into a muddy mess. Quite frankly, without the Compass and its legendary Jeep DNA by my side I wouldn’t have ventured into the park beyond the first couple of kilometres. Slipping and sliding and climbing our way to the top of the densely wooded plateau that is the sanctuary, it’s soon clear that I will have to poke that button next to the gear lever and engage Mud mode.
The jungle deadens noise and eight kilometres into the sanctuary all we could hear was the low thrum of the refined engine. Loud enough to offer that sense of security that we urban monkeys need without disturbing the natural environment. Shapes change, shadows shift and in the darkness of the forest everything begins to resemble an animal. Deeper into the jungle the forest trees twist and turn and meld themselves into shapes that would have shamed an ace gymnast. And that’s when we saw it. Not twenty metres ahead of us, a grand looking female bison! It was easily five and a half feet from hoof to shoulder and yet it didn’t look like the massive beast of my Kanha memories.
I had barely completed my thoughts when from behind a hedge out popped a massive beast. It must have been six feet or even taller, built like a tank. Those terrifying curved horns and oh! those angry red eyes one can never forget. A minute must have passed as us in our Jeep Compass and the Gaur couple stared at each other before they took off into the jungle with dazzling speed as suddenly as they had appeared. Truly, a sight to behold. A presence that is simply not to be ignored. Not entirely unlike the robust Compass. As for the Limited Plus edition, well, it just adds another layer of desirability to the already delectable Compass. ⌧
THE JUNGLE DEADENS NOISE AND EIGHT KILOMETRES INTO THE SANCTUARY ALL WE CAN HEAR IS THE LOW THRUM OF THE REFINED ENGINE
Below left: While the rain sensing wipers do a fab job of clearing the windscreen, the pitter patter of rain on that panoramic sunroof and the blur of trees make for a brilliant sight.Below right: The larger 8.4-inch touchscreen is actually the largest in its class